Debatably, 2016 has not been a great year. Political tensions are at an all-time high, terrorism is rampant still and segregation is inadvertently creeping back into society, but looking on the bright side, the line-up of movies has been fantastic. Whilst many blockbusters have underperformed both critically and sometimes financially, other smaller productions have been allowed to shine through. This year, audiences have been able to enjoy some of the most intelligent films in a while, some of which could potentially be my favourite films of all time upon second viewings. So, without further ado, here are my 20 favourite movies of the year. Enjoy!
(Disclaimer: the films on this list are based on their UK release)
There isn’t much left to say about Deadpool that hasn’t been carefully picked apart by fans and skeptics alike, so I’ll just say what I have to say and leave it at that. Firstly, it is so immensely refreshing to watch a superhero movie with so much personality and character, especially portrayed by our protagonist. It brilliantly maintains a comedic tone which had myself and viewers around me laughing throughout. While some jokes fall dramatically flat and the plot and technical aspects are unfortunately bland, it also proved that superhero movies don’t need to be restricted to a family-friendly rating to be successful, and this film’s tremendous box-office numbers can only have positive repercussions in the future.
I was hesitant going into Zootopia, since I’m not a huge fan of Disney animated movies and the comfortable, yet frustrating, formula they seem to have roosted themselves in. Now, the film still fails to escape this irritating trend, but it has more substance than something like, for example, Frozen or Tangled. It remarks upon racism, classism and many other social issues. One could argue that all these themes are rather ham-fisted at times, if not at all times, but I think this film is important, especially in a time of great division between both social and ethnic classes in the real world. Furthermore, the amount of thought and creativity that went into the smallest details of this world in order to adapt to the various species of all shapes and sizes is admirable, to say the least. Don’t go in to see a drastically-different Disney product, but it can still be enjoyed this as one of the better Disney animated films in recent years.
18. The Conjuring 2
Quick disclaimer: I did not watch the first Conjuring film and went to see this on the basis of a friend’s recommendation (his YouTube channel can be found here. Subscribe, he’s hilarious). However, this film still caught me off guard with its tremendous camerawork, brilliant building of atmosphere and great actors, even the children. There isn’t anything amazingly special in comparison to other horror movies (apart from the fact that it’s good) but in terms of an incredibly solid scare-fest with emotion, well-developed characters and a well-realised setting, this is certainly the horror film of the year.
17. The Magnificent Seven
Somewhat of an unpopular opinion, it seems, but I genuinely loved The Magnificent Seven remake. There are obvious flaws: some character motivations, moments of cheese and so on. However, one aspect in which this film excels in is plain damn fun. The action set-pieces are outstanding and the main characters were charismatic and interesting, if a few others are slightly underdeveloped. With a poignant and subtle ending to cap off some of the most fun I’ve had all year in a cinema, I cannot recommend this film enough (for further details on my thoughts, I made a video review which can be viewed here.)
16. Hunt For The Wilderpeople
In an odd turn of events, Hunt For The Wilderpeople made me excited for the next Thor movie. How, you may ask? This and Thor: Ragnarok happen to share the same director Taiki Watiti, and after sitting through this and What We Do In The Shadows, I can at least hope the next instalment in that rather drab Marvel series could be at least interesting. Concerning this film, it manages to be funny, well shot and well acted, whilst still delivering powerful emotional blows when required. Again, it doesn’t bring anything exceptionally new to the table as both a comedy or a drama, but it’ll be sure to have you laughing from start to finish.
15. Train To Busan
Many compare this film to World War Z and they’d be absolutely right. While I wasn’t much a fan of that other movie, this feels the better zombie flick. A pulse-pounding excitement rollercoaster from start to finish, this South Korean film ticks all the right boxes as to what makes a good zombie movie: good characters, a believable chain of events and, most importantly, the zombies are terrifying. If anything, this is certainly more entertaining than your average monotonous commute.
14. Café Society
By some cruel chance of fate, I hadn’t seen a single Woody Allen until I watched Café Society, and I have no idea why that’s the case. Needless to say, I will absolutely need to catch up on his movies at some point, because this one was thoroughly enjoyable. Jesse Eisenberg does a great job as the lead, and Kristen Stewart might actually be able to act after all these years. Regardless, these two have great chemistry, and this assists in making this film all the more entertaining alongside clever dialogue and fantastic screen presences like Steve Carell. Again, this isn’t anything too revolutionary, but with a brilliant interpretable ending, how can I not like this movie?
13. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
I have been a fan of Harry Potter since the first time I read Philosopher’s Stone at the age of five, so it is likely important to note that I am a little biased here. I have grown up with Harry, Hermione and Ron, with both the films, the main book series and a little spin-off title by the name of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. I never expected a movie out of a fictional textbook of less than 100 pages in length. However, I can certainly say I’m glad it happened. J.K. Rowling succeeds yet again, this time with her first ever film screenplay, and you wouldn’t guess based on the quality of the writing and exchanges between characters on display. The film is bubbling at the seams with creative ideas and exciting new concepts. With Eddie Redmayne genuinely giving one of the best performances of the year in my eyes, this is definitely one entry into the wizarding world you won’t want to miss.
12. Sing Street
I went into Sing Street fairly blind – the only knowledge I had of this movie was universally enjoyed by critics and audiences, a rare occurrence nowadays. I’m happy to report this is one of the best-written, funniest movies of the year, with an all-round stellar cast of kids and adults alike, who help in bringing these characters to life wonderfully. The real achievement is how authentic everything feels: the characters, the setting, the music for the time are all given the appropriate amount of love and care to make it all feet real. One could easily enjoy Sing Street based solely on its original score, which is undeniably fantastic, and the music videos the characters record feel amateur, yet so perfectly executed in the eyes of the viewer. Definitely check this one out.
11. The Nice Guys
You would be hard-pressed to find another human being on this planet who didn’t like The Nice Guys. Similar to Whiplash, it’s just one of those film which is incredibly difficult to hate. The amount of talent, love and devotion that has clearly gone into this clearly shines through in both the directing talent of Shane Black and the incredible performances from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Even if this film only sits at number 10, it is certainly the best 1970’s Los Angeles buddy cop movie I have ever seen.
10. Hail, Caesar!
This year has been one of discovery, especially in the directing field, as before this the only Coen brothers movie I had seen was Miller’s Crossing. Needless to say, I have a lot of catching up to do, but Hail Caesar still stands as yet another fantastically funny comedy in 2016. As it is a Coen brothers film, naturally it is filled with great acting talents, fantastic camerawork and a brilliantly realised setting. Every character is both understandable, yet entertaining, and the fantastic directing talents of both Coens. I could keep going on and on, trying to justify why I love this film with words, but would that it were so simple.
9. Sausage Party
I thought Sausage Party would be loud, obnoxious rubbish. I was incorrect. I was not expecting an intelligent commentary on the meaning of religion or purpose, so imagine my surprise when those exact things showed their beautiful heads. Like I said, this film has a lot of say about religion and political ideologies, their importance and their downfalls. Furthermore, this is a very funny movie – not as funny as some of the other films on this list but comedically stellar nonetheless. Brief word of warning though: do not, I repeat, DO NOT watch the ending with your family. Except Grandma. I’m sure she’d love it.
8. The Hateful Eight
This is a Tarantino movie. That is all.
There are so many beautiful, inspiring, emotionally significant moments in Room that it would be sacrilege to leave it out of this list. Brie Larson gives potentially one of the greatest performances of the last decade and Jacob Tremblay as her child is both irritating and endearing when appropriate. It would be a mistake to try and explain why this movie works so well in words, so all there is to say is: watch this movie. It’s out cheap on Blu-Ray, buy it as soon as you can.
6. Nocturnal Animals
Nocturnal Animals is a very unconventional thriller directed by famed fashion icon Tom Ford, who has achieved in not only single-handedly saving Gucci from bankruptcy, not only in having a song written about him by none other than Jay-Z, but he has proven himself to be a critically acclaimed director as well. Now, I haven’t seen A Single Man yet, his first film, but his second sitting in the directing chair has resulted in a very layered, beautifully executed story about the inner sadness of human beings. Amy Adams gives one of two incredibly nuanced, understated performances this year and I would be very surprised if she does not finally win that long-awaited Oscar in February.
5. Hell Or High Water
Who would’ve thought a movie about Chris Pine and Ben Foster as bank robbers on the run from racist Jeff Bridges would be such an interesting, mind-invading study of loneliness and humanity’s need for relationships and mutualism? Yes, this is the kind of movie that has the audience empathising with both the racist and racist’s figurative punching bag, both the murderer and the murderer’s distraught, yet innocent, brother. There is much to unpack in this multi-layered study of characters of varying backgrounds and ideals, and I can’t wait to watch it a second time.
4. The Revenant
Everyone has likely seen The Revenant by this point and made their opinion known, but if by some extraordinary phenomenon this is not the case for you, dear reader, it’s either that you simply haven’t gotten round to it or you think it looks rubbish. Allow me to try and convince the latter group otherwise. The action is choreographed with such detail it’s mind-boggling, the cinematography and its use of natural lighting adds to the realism and believability of every single scene and shot in its entire 2-hour runtime, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar win was more than well-deserved. Overall, a near-perfect cinematic achievement. All the success of this movie was beyond merited, and I cannot wait to see what this director does next.
3. Son of Saul
This Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film from Hungary is certainly the most unique take on the Holocaust I have ever seen. Despite its premise and setting, there is a lot more substance to this exceptional character study of the detrimental effects of human cruelty and suffering. With an incredibly limited number of lines or takes, and even less explanation, the viewer is given just enough context and background to figure out exactly what the characters’ motivations are, the conditions they live in, their attitude towards said environments and so much more. Furthermore, it’s shot in such a way that everything around Saul as he moves around is shrouded in blurriness, so the audience is able to see, hear and feel exactly the same as our protagonist. The framing is also done in a very unique way to not only fit the time period appropriately, but to have the viewer feel trapped and claustrophobic, as if they can never escape. This is potentially the best depiction of World War Two I have ever experience and I cannot recommend it enough.
Yet another instance of a newly-experienced filmmaker: Charlie Kaufman. After this and Adaptation, this man may be one of my favourite screenwriters of this day and age. Concerning Anomalisa, it simply cannot be praised enough. Not only is it likely the best stop-motion animation of all time, it is also a movie which could not have been made in live-action. This was probably the most overlooked film of both 2015 and 2016, and if there was ever an example of the Oscars giving animated films a pass because they’re “just for kids”, this would be it. Kaufman and his co-director Duke Johnson succeed in creating a perfectly-paced, superbly animated, fascinating commentary on the monotony of day-to-day life and the lengths people will go to to try and alter that. Oddly, without a single real human, this feels like the most human movie of the year, and it needs as much support as possible.
Finally, we are at the number one. The big one. The best one. The one that outshone the rest, a fantastic achievement in a year at great as this, so of course it had to go to… *drumroll builds dramatically…….then stops!*
…Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, starring Amy Adams (yet again). Villeneuve has undoubtedly become one of my favourite directors working today, as he puts on display an utterly masterful tale of unity and humanity’s need to work together in order to succeed. Especially in a year such as this, where populations are more divided than ever before following Brexit and one of the most vicious and ferocious elections in American history, this film is not only the most important of the year, but also the most finely crafted, beautifully told story and characters. Who would’ve know that it would take aliens landing on the Earth’s surface to have nations put their petty differences aside and work as one cohesive international human race. Understand that this isn’t a story about aliens, but is more concerned with showing how humans react on their own accord, not how the aliens want them to. It’s difficult to explain why this film works so well on so many levels, but needless to say I was in tears by the end – not tears of sadness, but of joy and relief. This was undoubtedly the most profoundly moving and emotional experiences I had this year, and that is why it sits at no. 1 of my favourite films of the year.